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Chamber comments on Autumn Statement & Spending Review 2015

Commenting on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review, delivered on Wednesday 25th November, Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce said:

“The Chancellor’s recent Autumn Statement contained a number of policies that are of real concern to those doing business in Caithness, Scotland and the wider UK.

“The significant rise in Employment Allowance as of April 2016, from £2,000 to £3,000, is good news for small businesses, and will allow many that couldn’t previously afford it to consider taking on their first employee.

“Similarly, we welcome the Government’s commitment to deliver 75,000 Start-Up Loans by the end of the current Parliament. Access to startup finance is an issue of real concern to many entrepreneurs, and this commitment from the Chancellor offers a welcome boost to those considering striking out on their own.

“Less happily, we are concerned about the announcement that most businesses will be required to maintain digital tax accounts by 2020. Access to broadband – let alone to superfast – connectivity, remains a real issue for rural areas such as Caithness, and we are concerned that the move to a digital-only system will prove a real burden to businesspeople in rural areas.

“We are also concerned about the potential impact of the Apprenticeship Levy, which is set to cost businesses £3bn in the first year alone and, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, will result in average earnings being 0.3% lower by 2020-21. It is also concerning that the details of how this will apply to large employers in Scotland have yet to be confirmed – Scottish businesses need clear answers to allow them to plan for investment and to help them properly address skills shortages across a number of sectors.

“We would also echo the comments of the Chartered Institute of Taxation that the allowance of up to £15,000 against the levy payment should be well-publicised and easily applied, lest small employers find themselves unnecessarily burdened.

“We note with interest that the Scottish Government is set to receive an additional £1.9bn for infrastructure spending through rises in the block grant to 2021. We strongly urge the Scottish Government to put this additional capital to good use in making much-needed infrastructural investments in rural areas – for example, on the A9 at the Berriedale Braes, and on the Far North Line.

“While business rates remain a devolved matter, we are disappointed to see that the Chancellor has failed to lead the way in delivering a much-needed reform of this outdated system, and we echo the our colleagues in Scottish Chambers in calling for the Scottish Government to engage with businesses and local authorities here to find a solution for Scottish Business Rates, which are now unfit for purpose.

“We are aware that the Scottish Government will be delivering its draft budget for 2016-17 in the coming months, and will be working closely with our colleagues in Scottish Chambers of Commerce to ensure that these and other issues of importance to business are given the consideration they deserve.”